High-Level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) – GWI UN Reps Report

High-Level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) – GWI UN Reps Report

2011_UNGA_Roundtable_NCD_sm-300x212UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

A two-day High Level Meeting on NCDs (diabetes, cancer, and chronic cardiovascular and lung disease) was held as part of the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly (GA) in New York on 19-20 September 2011. The meeting opened with a plenary session at which the challenges posed by NCDs were outlined. The worldwide death rate from these diseases is 36 million out of a total of 57 million deaths annually.


GA President Nassir Abdulaziz Al –Nasser opened the session, stating that problems caused by NCDs go beyond individuals, families and communities. The effects are compounded by the fact that the diseases are responsible for 9 million deaths annually in people under age 60, at the most productive part of their life.

Secretary-General Ban Ki- Moon noted that 3 out of 5 people die of NCDs per year. The number is expected to increase by 17% in the next decade; however, in Africa this figure will reach 24%.


The most vulnerable are disproportionately affected, and victims and families are pushed into poverty due to job loss, cost of care and need for care giving. NCDs are preventable in many cases using inexpensive means such as proper nutrition, screening programs, increasing physical activity, smoking cessation and reduced alcohol intake.

Governments, pharmaceutical companies, the private sector and civic groups need to do more to develop early detection programs, make treatment affordable and accessible, promote prevention by embracing a healthy lifestyle and help to curb alcohol and tobacco consumption. However, individuals must also take responsibility for their own health.


Mr. Ban Ki –Moon pointed out that this was only the second UN High Level meeting about health. The previous one held a decade ago addressed HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB and resulted in significant advances in the prevention and treatment of these diseases. This shows that when stakeholders are engaged progress is possible.


Dr Margaret Chan, Director- General of WHO stated that medical professionals have been drawing attention to the problem for a long time, but many governments have not paid attention. Only a change in attitude at all levels of governments can lead to progress. It is the responsibility of governments to protect their citizens from these diseases and to provide the means for the care of those affected. Industry must stop marketing tobacco and promoting foods with high fat, sugar and salt content which cause obesity, hypertension and diabetes and cancer. Often unhealthy foods are lower priced than healthy ones, leading to a higher incidence of NCDs among the poor. Raising taxes on alcohol and tobacco may be one way of cutting down consumption.


The last speaker, Princess Dina Mired, representing the Union for International Cancer Control spoke for civil society. She stressed that recognition of the problem is vital. People are not only dying of these diseases, but many experience very poor quality of life and poverty. There is a need for clear and measurable goals one of which is to reduce the incidence of NCDs by 20% in the next 25 years.


Round tables held on the two days addressed the themes of ” Rising incidence, developmental and other challenges and the social and economic impact of NCDs”, “Strengthening national capacities as well as appropriate policies to address prevention and control of NCDs”, and “Fostering international cooperation and coordination to address NCDs.” During these, high level government officials of a number of countries presented conditions on the ground and actions being taken to deal with NCDs. Organizations such as WHO, World Bank, American Cancer Society, World Medical Association and the International Association of Patient Organizations also participated and input was welcomed from other NGOs.


In the Political Declaration adopted by consensus during the meeting, Governments pledged to work with the United Nations to adopt before the end of 2012 targets to combat heart disease, cancers, diabetes and lung disease and to devise voluntary policies that cut smoking and slashed the high salt, sugar and fat content in foods that caused them. Assembly Member States also pledged to work with WHO, other United Nations agencies and international organizations to develop, before the end of 2012, “a comprehensive global monitoring framework, including a set of indicators, capable of application across regional and country settings […] to monitor trends and to assess progress made in implementing national strategies and plans on non-communicable diseases”. A comprehensive review of the Declaration’s implementation is to take place in 2014.


GWI’s membership may consider how to utilize our four pillars to help educate our communities to gain control over NCDs .

Sophie Turner Zaretsky MD GWI UN Representative, New York

For the Declaration: http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/66/L.1

For the UN Secretary General’s Report on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases: http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/66/83&Lang=E

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